Trying Hard to Wait and Not Worry

December 17, 2013

Rosie giving me a welcome home from the hospital

Rosie giving me a welcome home from the hospital

Small litter or phantom pregnancy? I think I’m starting to lose my mind. I’ve never had to wait for a litter before. I’ve always known the date and my girls tend to go the day of or the day after the date I have recorded.

Still, I could be wrong and then Rosie’s date would have been yesterday. But that should mean puppies no later than today.

So what is going on? Rosie feels much smaller than usual so I keep thinking that maybe it is really just a phantom pregnancy… of course that would mean that I’m going crazy because Rosie has palpable somethings in her abdomen…

See? I’m losing my mind.

A phantom pregnancy is an odd thing to occur and one of the reasons my husband likes to shake his head and say “dogs are weird”. Of course humans can have phantom pregnancies too, but my husband just rolls his eyes when I point that out.

Just Take A Pregnancy Test

Pregnancy tests for dogs are another “weird” thing. When bitches come into season they begin to produce hormones to prepare the womb for the reception of fertilized embryos. Whether or not the womb receives any little lives the female continues to produce these hormones for the next 9 weeks (the same amount of time a female dog gestates)

This makes testing dogs for pregnancy rather tricky. Dogs don’t make hCG like humans do (human chorionic gonadotropin) which is the hormone detected in human home pregnancy tests. In order to test for pregnancy in a bitch the breeder must bring her to the veterinarian about half way through her pregnancy (3-4 weeks left in the pregnancy) and have a blood test run.

Of course by this time it is obvious to the experienced breeder whether or not the bitch is in-whelp. Little bitty puppy bodies can be felt (palpated) and, of course, as good companion animal breeders live with their breeding dogs they will know whether the bitch is acting the way a pregnant bitch acts.

(I say companion animals because I see no reason to say anything negative about reputable hunting dog and field dog breeders whose dogs live in lovely and appropriate outdoor facilities. These dogs are not dependent upon human contact for their well-being and they live wonderful lives in their runs with their team-mate dogs. These breeders also spend an inordinate amount of time working their dogs, much to their dogs’ delight. Cockapoos and other companion dogs should never be raised and kept in this manner. It would be psychologically cruel.)

Ok, so why go into the vet’s office and pay a hundred dollars (and often more) to have a blood test confirm what you already know is (or isn’t) going on? (That is, except in the case of a phantom pregnancy, which could be mistaken for a small litter.)

Besides the cost (which then has to be passed on to the puppy buyers) I have a particular problem with bringing my dogs into a vet clinic. This is something we avoid whenever possible. We go only if an animal is sick or injured, there is a complication (which pretty much has never happened… knock on wood) and in the case of coming in to see specialists at clinics (ophthalmology, cardiology, joints, blood panels, etc). And that is yearly and done with great precaution (and I mean great).

A vet’s office is where sick animals go. Sick animals mean inviting disease or parasite to hitch a ride home and hurt your animals. So going to a vet just for a blood test to help ease the waiting is just not worth the risk or the investment, in my opinion.

Of course it takes the guess work out and every now and then breeders run into the “phantom” pregnancy. Even skilled breeders can be mistaken. Swollen and enlarged uterine horns can be caused by lots of things, especially a phantom pregnancy. Although it hasn’t happened to me…. Yet.

X-Ray Scan

The other most common way to determine a pregnancy is to have an x-ray performed. Despite the cost (another couple hundred dollars) and the bringing of the dog into the vet hospital (can’t have a vet visit the house and bring an x-ray machine with him, can I) there is the very real concern of exposing little developing babies to unnecessary radiation. And it isn’t a little teeny bit of radiation, either. No sir, x-rays are not for my babies. I can wait it out, even if it makes my knuckles white.


The final option is an ultrasound. It is safe and it provides a clear picture of what is going on inside our Mommy dog. I’d absolutely love to be able to have regular ultrasounds half-way through all pregnancies. Unfortunately they cost between $400-500, sometimes more (in my state, anyway).

There is no benefit to the ultrasound apart from pregnancy confirmation and a guess at how many puppies are in the litter (they can hide behind each other and so the count is not always accurate) and if a problem is seen in a puppy or even the whole litter nothing can really be done to help. It is not anything like a human pregnancy. The scan is only done for convenience and is not a health necessity for the bitch or the litter.

The only place that has the equipment is well over an hour away (the place we take our dogs for heart ultrasounds and their cardiology clinics) and boy, are they ever expensive and always full of sick dogs since they’re a very large and well-equipped hospital.

Apart from the exposure of the dam to the dangers of the hospital this cost means I have to charge about $100 more per puppy. Could I do that? Yes. I’d have no problem selling my puppies for several hundred dollars more than I do. So I can do that… But should I do that?

I’m not convinced. I know I charge well below market value for my dogs (several hundred dollars, actually) but that is on purpose. I want people to actually be able to afford a good dog. People should have access to healthy, well-bred animals and the ability to support ethical breeders.

The economic climate isn’t the greatest in this country. Many families cannot afford to spend $1500-2000 on a puppy and do not have the experience or the money for a behaviorist in the event they select a mill-bred shelter dog (and 99% of shelter and rescue dogs are from mills or backyard breeders. That is a guarantee).

So I make an effort to charge just enough money to be able to put in the money and time necessary to care for my dogs appropriately. They need DNA tests for disease; proper, nutritious food; yearly visits with specialists for health clearances; the pups require tons of stuff for training and proper socialization. Raising a litter is way more expensive than you think. And so on and so forth.

I cut out the extra unnecessary things. I go to health clinics and have the CERF and OFA forms filled out by specialists and the tests performed but I don’t pay the extra amount to have them registered with these governing bodies (I have the forms, it is an unnecessary extra though a nice one to have).

I don’t have the girls blood tested for ovulation to ensure proper timing of breeding. I avoid those hospital visits and painful needle sticks and watch my girls’ body and behavior. But it would cut out time and work and take all guesswork out of it. It would be convenient.

I don’t have the girls’ ultrasound-scanned to confirm pregnancy. Another lovely convenience.

I think that’s about it. Those are the little luxuries that I’d be able to afford if I charged full price for my dogs. And honestly sometimes I think about how wonderful that would be. But it is more wonderful to see regular, every-day people hugging one of our sound, healthy and beautiful puppies.

But that still leaves us in a bind with Rosie, now, doesn’t it?

What About the Vet?

A veterinarian can affirm my dam’s good health with blood panels and tests and looking and feeling her.

He can tell me if she is “in-condition” to breed. He can feel her and tell me his opinion on whether or not she is in-whelp about a month after she’s been bred.

However the vast majority of veterinarians have absolutely no dog breeding experience whatsoever. I’ve never met one that has actually attended a natural delivery (only C-sections) and I’ve never met one that really knew all that much about breeding at all. They have an educated opinion, they know what they’ve read in books and learned in school, but they do not have an informed opinion to give in this case.

So while my vet and I might agree that a bitch is in-whelp with what must be a small litter, my guess is as good as his (and probably better) so this doesn’t give us any accuracy, does it?

Bottom Line?

It comes down to a lot of educated guessing. And now I’m second guessing my second and third guesses… and making myself a little nuts.

She appears to be pregnant, she feels like she is pregnant, she is acting like she is pregnant and she is acting like she is ready to whelp…. But no puppies have come. And I’m starting to lose my mind a little bit, I think.

The ultrasound is set for Thursday if she hasn’t whelped by then but I’m not sure I can wait that long! Maybe I should just take her in tomorrow… but the vet tells me to “relax”. How can I do that?


Well, I hope she has those babies tonight and I doubly hope that she doesn’t have invisible puppies in there, because that would be so upsetting. It would be even worse if something was wrong and we have lost the puppies. That would break my heart.

And I would be devastated to let down the people hoping for a litter.

And not everyone will be willing to wait another 6 months for a litter. Will they be able to find a reputable breeder with available puppies? None that I know currently have any. It makes me worry for those families (since they are all lovely people).

Let’s all cross our fingers that we have a lovely, healthy litter born tonight.

Sharing a cupcake

In the meantime I have baked cupcakes to distract myself (root-beer-float cupcakes. I invented them and they taste amazing. Email and I’ll give you the recipe if you want). My middle daughter decided to try to share her still-too-hot-to-frost cupcake with Rosie, who seemed interested but then declined (a sign of impending delivery).

I love seeing my kids share, though. But dogs really shouldn’t have cupcakes, even somewhat wholesome ones made from scratch. I suppose I can make an exception for pregnant dogs. Or possibly phantom-pregnant dogs.

*head down, on keyboard*

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